A few minutes’ future talk with Adrian Hallmark, Bentley’s dynamic new boss, is all it takes to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the word ‘traditional’ – at least, as applied to venerable luxury car manufacturers from Crewe – is heading for a radical overhaul.
By the time Bentley reaches its centenary in a year’s time, it will have launched its first electrified car, a V6 Bentayga hybrid, and that’s just the beginning of a revolution that by 2025, and possibly before, willput an electrified version of every Bentley model on the road, along with a plethora of extra-luxury, extra- performance versions designed to expand the range’s appeal, much as sibling company Porsche has done.
Beyond all that, battery-powered Bentleys are definitely on the distant horizon, an unthinkable idea until recent research showed that current Bentley owners are open to the idea, although not in the short term.
I meet Hallmark, 55, in his comfortable but not especially opulent office in Crewe’s headquarters building, much changed by the company’s many bosses over the years. He is a gregarious and fast-talking character who has spent more than 20 years studying global premium and luxury car markets in detail and can spout dazzling statistics to back any argument. Hallmark used to run Porsche in the UK before moving on through several jobs on a rising trajectory to become Jaguar Land Rover’s director of global strategy.
However, his secret weapon in this latest job is a previous stint as Bentley’s director of sales and marketing, just as the modern era of Volkswagen Group ownership was beginning and the old-school Bentley models were giving way to the seminal 2003 Continental GT, which he helped to position and configure.
The Continental GT, an unqualified success now reaching the market in its third iteration, has demonstrated over 15 years how Audi and VW components can make a much better but still authentic Bentley and has led to the creation of a range of modern models, topped impressively by the highly successful Bentayga SUV.
He doesn’t say it out loud, but it’s fairly evident that Hallmark suspects Bentley hasn’t participated particularly well in the Chinese-led expansion of luxury car sales since the end of the 2008-2009 recession. He is clearly impatient to do something about it, which means kicking on beyond the 11,000-cars-a- year volume the company currently achieves, which is near enough to its pre-recession record. It’s pretty clear he reckons a volume beyond 15,000 would be more like it.
In Bentley’s special arena of the car market, Hallmark explains, a luxury car is something very specific. It’s overwhelmingly likely to come from one of what he terms ‘The Big Five’: “Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and us”. The whole sector’s combined global volume currently runs at fewer than 70,000 cars and covers models mostly starting around £150,000. By comparison, marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar and Porsche (which Hallmark labels “premium”) are currently pushing into the £100,000 barrier, where the Continental GT made its debut at £110,000 back in 2003.